Monday, September 3, 2012

How to grow peonies in the UK

How to grow peonies - Peony Karl Rosenfeld is one of the best deep pink, semi-double varieties
How to grow peonies - Peony Karl Rosenfeld is one of the best deep pink, semi-double varieties Photo: JONATHAN BUCKLEY
Ideally, plant bare-root peonies in Oct-Nov while the soil is still warm. Container-grown plants can be planted at any time. Peonies prefer heavier soils (but not waterlogged), in a sunny or lightly shaded position. Mix plenty of organic matter into the planting hole and add grit on very heavy soils.
  • Don’t plant too deep. The eyes of the peony roots should be no more than 3-5cm below the soil surface. Any deeper and they may not flower well. For the same reason, avoid mulching as this will gradually bury the crown.
  • New divisions should flower a little the next season, but it can take three years to flower from replanting.
  • Herbaceous peonies are fine in a pot for a few years but their large root system will ultimately outgrow it. Shield from sun and use a soil-based compost with extra grit and lime.
March
Mulch (lightly) in February or March with potash-rich wood ash, although in good soil, it’s not essential. On poor soil this will increase flower production. Peonies don’t need watering unless it’s a very dry spring.
April 
If you want whopping great flowers, de-bud the side shoots in April/May with a sharp knife. I prefer abundance to scale so don’t do this in my garden.
May
You can cut the odd flower in their first year, but resist cutting too many until the second or, even better, the third year. Always leave at least a quarter of the stems on each plant to photosynthesise and feed the root through summer and early autumn.
September
Once they’re settled in and have formed decent-sized plants after one or two years, cut your plants back — for best leaf colour hold off until mid November. Burn the old foliage to make sure you’ve got rid of any fungal spores. This reduces the chances of problems with botrytis which can cause peony wilt the following spring. Peony wilt causes the buds to look mouldy and the stems to wilt. Plants can also be moved in autumn.
Conditioning cut flowers
  • Float peonies, flower and all, in deep water in a bath overnight. Even if they’re already looking floppy and sad, most will recover and go on to last more than a week. The flowers can absorb water over their whole petal surface, so the more you can have in contact with the water the better.
  • Peonies are very thirsty – at least to begin with. You must fill up their vase every day for the first three or four days they are inside.
Where to buy
  • Claire Austin Hardy Plants, Edgebolton, Shawbury, Shropshire SY4 4EL (01939 251173)
  • Kelways Plants, Picts Hill, Langport, Somerset TA10 9EZ (mail order 01458 250521)
Reader offer
Gardening readers can buy three 'Sarah Bernhardt', three 'Karl Rosenfeld' or two 'Duchesse de Nemours' for £9.95. Buy all three packs for £19.90 and save £9.95. Please send orders to Telegraph Garden Service, Dept. TL955, 14-16 Hadfield Street, Old Trafford, Manchester, M16 9FG. Cheques/Postal orders should be made payable to Telegraph Garden Service or call 0161 848 1106 for debit/credit card orders. Please quote ref. TL955 when placing your order. Orders are dispatched in late September. We regret we are unable to dispatch our goods to the Channel Islands or Southern Ireland.
 

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